James and the Cavaliers make their first visit to Washington since eliminating the Wizards from the playoffs last season as the teams play for the second time in less than two weeks.
Even though James was held to 18 points, Cleveland beat Washington 93-89 on Christmas Day in the first meeting between the teams since last season’s playoffs.
The Cavaliers (27-5) have knocked the Wizards (6-25) out of the postseason in each of the last three seasons, doing it each time at the Verizon Center. James had 27 points, 13 assists and 13 rebounds in the Game 6 series-clinching win at Washington in the first round last season.
James is averaging 29.0 points in 16 career games at the Verizon Center and 31.9 in eight playoff games there.
While he might not need to put up such big numbers against a Washington team that has the worst record in the Eastern Conference, James and the Cavaliers will have to make up for the loss of starting center Zydrunas Ilgauskas. It was announced Friday he will miss a month with a fractured bone in his left ankle, the same one he sprained earlier this month and forced him to sit out three games.
Ilgauskas is averaging 13.8 points and is tied for the team lead with 7.1 rebounds per game. The Cavs improved to 3-1 without him this season with a 117-92 win over the Chicago Bulls on Friday.
“It’s going to be tough,” James said. “Guys have to pick it up. We’ve got a veteran ballclub and we’ve got enough guys who can come off the bench and really play. We’re going to see who can step up.”
James had 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds Friday for his first triple-double of the season and 18th of his career. He also had three blocks and two steals as Cleveland held Chicago to 36.6 percent from the field.
The Cavs were coming off a 104-95 loss to Miami on Tuesday, giving up 100 points for just the fourth time this season. Cleveland has one of the top scoring defenses in the NBA, allowing 89.7 points per game.
The Cavs continue this easy stretch in the schedule into next week, facing the Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday. After that, Cleveland faces league-best Boston before playing six of its next seven games on the road—the only home game in that span is against Southwest Division-leading New Orleans.
“This month will show how good we are and to have our big man out, it’s going to be tough,” James said. “We have the West Coast swing, we have Boston and New Orleans coming in. This was the month that we were looking forward to see how we stack up against these teams.”
Washington has lost 10 of 12, including a 108-83 loss to the Celtics on Friday.
The Wizards never led, trailing by as many as 33 points. They shot 38.3 percent from the field and were led by 15 points from Nick Young.
Caron Butler returned after missing three games with a sprained left ankle but he managed just eight points, missing six of eight free throws.
“We just weren’t making shots. We weren’t making free throws,” said Butler, who is averaging 20.5 points.
Although Washington has struggled against Cleveland at the Verizon Center during the playoffs, the Wizards are 17-4 at home against the Cavaliers in the last 21 regular-season meetings, winning six of the last seven.